Activists from Fight for the Future mounted the protest in Washington, DC, on Thursday.
Three protesters wearing white jumpsuits bearing signs saying “Facial Recognition in Progress” scanned the faces of passersby using smartphones mounted on their heads. They used Amazon’s commercially available facial-recognition software, called Rekognition.
The protesters were making the point that facial recognition remained unregulated in the US. Private companies and the US government are increasingly adopting the technology, prompting fears of surveillance creep.
The protesters focused on the halls of Congress as well as busy metro stops, and they were looking in particular for members of Congress, journalists, and Amazon lobbyists, according to a press release.
The protest was livestreamed, and a tally was kept of how many people they scanned. The final count was 13,740, including 25 lobbyists, seven journalists, and one congressman, Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier of California.
The website where the protest was livestreamed allows people to upload their picture to check whether they were among the 13,740 faces scanned. Fight for the Future says it will delete all the photos and data after two weeks.
“This should probably be illegal, but until Congress takes action to ban facial-recognition surveillance, it’s terrifyingly easy for anyone — a government agent, a corporation, or just a creepy stalker — to conduct biometric monitoring and violate basic rights at a massive scale,” Fight for the Future’s deputy director, Evan Greer, said in a statement. “We did this to make a point.”